You’re not a morning person, but you still make it into work for your 7AM shift after sleeping for, at most, five hours. You’re exhausted, eyes bleary, but you clock in right on time. The rest of the day is spent halfheartedly completing all the tasks assigned to you. You get everything done (if not enthusiastically) and you clock out at the end of your shift and go home. You think you’re a good employee. You’re certainly not a bad one. You try, but always find yourself falling short of expectations, getting the mediocre “good enough” stamp of approval during yearly performance reviews. You crave more responsibility, better pay, and, to be quite honest, a more reasonable start time. Waking up at 5AM every morning is painful when you’re a night person. But it seems that you never get further than the guaranteed yearly 25 cent raise. Why? Well, you may not be as good of an employee as you think. This used to be me, in my early twenties. I showed up! I did my job! Why aren’t I getting further, I asked myself daily. It wasn’t until far too many years later that I learned what it means to be an actual, honest to gosh, good employee. It took awhile, but I think I have a decent idea of what that means now. Here are some lessons I learned about being an excellent employee on my journey to finding a career I love.
Enthusiasm makes a difference. You can be the klutziest klutz that ever klutzed, working in a glass shop, breaking the merchandise accidentally each day and still be beloved by your employer because of your enthusiasm for the job and your work. When I worked in various coffee shops and customer service positions, it was often tough to muster enthusiasm for repetitive tasks. I’m not a person who likes doing the same thing over and over and over. But putting my dislike of repetitive tasks on display wasn’t getting me anywhere. I don’t recommend the “fake it til you make it” route for everything. Most of the time that does not work. However, in this case, I started to “fake” being happy with what I was doing each day. Over time, the manager noticed that I didn’t balk at dirty tasks or repetitive jobs anymore and I was able to slowly introduce my ideas to him and found myself getting promoted to a supervisor position. This wasn’t where I wanted to stay or the path I wanted my career to take, but it taught me that you should be enthusiastic, and, if you can’t drum up that emotion, to give your job your full attention 100% of the time.
After that lesson, I eventually moved on to other coffee shops and a call center or two. I was just out of college, so moving from this job to that wasn’t considered to be a bad thing… yet. I still hadn’t settled into a company or found a career path I was happy travelling, but in the next few years I learned that being passive gets you nowhere. In fact, part of being a good employee in a growing, thriving company is being autonomous and action-oriented. For awhile I worked for a nonprofit in their call center. I spent Monday through Friday helping those who qualified complete applications for heating assistance over the phone. I was more enthusiastic about this position than others, because it felt like the first step toward a “real” job. Still couldn’t tell you what I wanted to be when I “grew up” but I was pretty happy there. I quickly learned, though, that my supervisors weren’t really interested in employees looking to them for direction every five minutes. They were lovely, helpful ladies but they wanted me to do my job. When I was there long enough and knew what I was doing, I shouldn’t have needed to go to them for everything. At some point in your career, or even when you’re no longer a newbie at whatever job you’re currently working at to pay the bills, a good employee is expected to take charge and be able to make decisions and act on their own. This also takes a certain amount of confidence that can be developed over time. You won’t move far in a company if you’re not able to make your own (good) decisions and act on them. Be confident, take charge, get it done.
Though I didn’t stay at that nonprofit for more than a year, I did learn to take the lead when I was comfortable and not lean so much on others. It was a lesson that has helped me succeed at almost every job I’ve worked at. Moving from that job to another and another, until finally coming to Penn Foster, has taught me a lot about what it means to be a good employee. These are just lessons I’ve learned on the way to finally finding the career I love where I don’t have to “fake it til I make it” (writing these blog posts for you to read!), so you may have a different path to travel and may learn different things on the way. But no matter what you do, every opportunity—good, bad, or boring—can teach you something about who you are as a person and what you need to learn to be an amazing employee. Without those customer service jobs and coffee shop jobs and all the jobs in between, I wouldn’t have developed the skills and confidence to be typing this now. If you’ve never worked in a customer or service based industry, I recommend working on your soft skills. It can help make your journey to the career of dreams a bit shorter than mine, though I still think that every experience and job was worth it!